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Gordon writes: "Once upon a time, if a character on TV or in a movie tortured someone, it was a sure sign that he was a bad guy. Now, the torturers are the all-American heroes."

(illustration: FOX)
(illustration: FOX)

Dick Cheney's Sadistic America: Why Torture Persists Post-W

By Rebecca Gordon, TomDispatch

12 July 14

nce upon a time, if a character on TV or in a movie tortured someone, it was a sure sign that he was a bad guy. Now, the torturers are the all-American heroes. From 24 to Zero Dark Thirty, it’s been the good guys who wielded the pliers and the waterboards. We’re not only living in a post-9/11 world, we’re stuck with Jack Bauer in the 25th hour.

In 2002, Cofer Black, the former Director of the CIA’s Counterterrorism Center, told a Senate committee, “All I want to say is that there was ‘before’ 9/11 and ‘after’ 9/11. After 9/11 the gloves come off.” He wanted them to understand that Americans now live in a changed world, where, from the point of view of the national security state, anything goes. It was, as he and various top officials in the Bush administration saw it, a dangerous place in which terrorists might be lurking in any airport security line and who knew where else.

Dark-skinned foreigners promoting disturbing religions were driven to destroy us because, as President George W. Bush said more than once, “they hate our freedoms.” It was "them or us." In such a frightening new world, we were assured, our survival depended in part on brave men and women willing to break precedent and torture some of our enemies for information that would save civilization itself. As part of a new American creed, we learned that torture was the price of security.

These were the ruling fantasies of the era, onscreen and off. But didn’t that sorry phase of our national life end when Bush and his vice president Dick Cheney departed? Wasn’t it over once Barack Obama entered the Oval Office and issued an executive order closing the CIA black sites that the Bush administration had set up across the planet, forbidding what had euphemistically come to be called “enhanced interrogation techniques?” As it happens, no. Though it’s seldom commented upon, the infrastructure for, the capacity for, and the personnel to staff a system of institutionalized state torture remain in place, ready to bloom like a desert plant in a rain shower the next time fear shakes the United States.

There are several important reasons why the resurgence of torture remains a possibility in post-Bush America:

  • Torture did not necessarily end when Obama took office.
  • We have never had a full accounting of all the torture programs in the “war on terror.”
  • Not one of the senior government officials responsible for activities that amounted to war crimes has been held accountable, nor were any of the actual torturers ever brought to court.

Torture Did Not Necessarily End When Obama Took Office

The president’s executive order directed the CIA to close its detention centers “as expeditiously as possible” and not to open any new ones. No such orders were given, however, to the Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC), a clandestine force composed of elite fighters from several branches of the U.S. armed forces. JSOC had run its own secret detention centers in Iraq. At Camp Nama, interrogations took place in the ominously named “Black Room.” According to the New York Times, the camp’s chilling motto was “no blood, no foul.” JSOC is presently deployed on several continents, including Africa, where gathering “intelligence” forms an important part of its duties.

The president’s executive order still permits “rendition” -- the transfer of a terror suspect to another country for interrogation, which in the Bush years meant to the prisons of regimes notorious for torture. It does, however, impose some constraints on the practice. Such “transfers” must be approved by a special committee composed of the director of national intelligence, the secretary of defense, the secretary of state, the secretary of homeland security, the director of the Central Intelligence Agency, and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. It is to be chaired by the attorney general. The committee must not “transfer... individuals to other nations to face torture or otherwise for the purpose, or with the effect, of undermining or circumventing the commitments or obligations of the United States to ensure the humane treatment of individuals in its custody or control.”

This last constraint, however, has been in place at least since 1994, when the Senate ratified the U.N. Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, and Degrading Treatment. That did not prevent the rendition of people like Maher Arar, an innocent Canadian citizen sent by the United States to Syria, where he endured 10 months of torture in an underground cell. Nor did it save Binyam Mohammed, whose Moroccan jailers sliced his chest and penis with a scalpel -- once a month for 18 months, according to British human rights lawyer Andy Worthington.

Nor has the CIA itself been prepared to end all its torture programs. In his confirmation hearings, Obama’s first CIA director Leon Panetta told members of Congress that “if the approved techniques were ‘not sufficient’ to get a detainee to divulge details he was suspected of knowing about an imminent attack, he would ask for ‘additional authority’ to use other methods.” It is, however, unlikely that such “other methods” could be brought to bear on the spur of the moment. To do so, you need an infrastructure and trained personnel. You need to be ready, with skills honed.

Torture, though by another name, still goes on in the American prison complex at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba. President Obama came into office promising to close Guantánamo within a year. It’s a promise he repeats occasionally, but the prison is still open, and some detainees are still being held indefinitely. Those who use the only instrument they have to resist their hellish limbo -- a hunger strike -- are strapped into chairs and force-fed. In case you think such “feeding” is a humanitarian act, Guantánamo prisoner Samir Naji al Hasan Moqbel described the experience in a New York Times op-ed in April 2013:

“I will never forget the first time they passed the feeding tube up my nose. I can’t describe how painful it is to be force-fed this way. As it was thrust in, it made me feel like throwing up. I wanted to vomit, but I couldn’t. There was agony in my chest, throat, and stomach. I had never experienced such pain before. I would not wish this cruel punishment upon anyone.”

The U.S. has a long history of involvement with torture -- from its war in the Philippines at the dawn of the twentieth century on. It has also, as in Latin America in the 1960s, trained torturers serving other regimes. But until 9/11 top officials in this country had never publicly approved of torture. Whatever might happen behind closed doors (or in training sessions provided by the School of the Americas, for example), in public, everyone -- government officials, the press, and the public -- agreed that torture was wrong.

That consensus no longer exists today. After 9/11 those “gloves” came off. Waterboarding prisoners who might have information about a plot that could threaten us was a “no brainer” for Vice President Dick Cheney, and he wasn’t alone. In those years, torture, always called “enhanced interrogation techniques” (a phrase the media quickly picked up), became a commonplace, even celebrated, feature of our new landscape. Will it remain that way?

We Have Never Had a Full Accounting of All the Torture Programs Used in the “War on Terror”

Thanks to the work of persistent reporters, we now know many pieces of the torture puzzle, but we still have nothing like a complete, coherent narrative. And if we don’t know just what happened in those torture years, we are unlikely to be able to dismantle the existing infrastructure, which means we won’t be able to keep it from happening again.

In addition, the accounts of journalists and historians are not sufficient, as they don’t bear any government imprimatur. They are not “the official story.” They do not represent an attempt on the part of the government, and hence the nation, to come fully to grips with this past. An official account of what happened could, however, lay the groundwork for a national consensus against the future use of torture.

Forty years ago, congressional investigations of the CIA’s Phoenix Program (in which tens of thousands of Viet Cong were tortured and murdered) resulted in some new constraints on the Agency’s activities. President Gerald Ford issued an executive order prohibiting the CIA from engaging in “political assassinations” or experimenting with drugs on human subjects. President Jimmy Carter amended that order to prohibit assassination in general. These edicts, combined with the oversight provided by the House and Senate Intelligence Committees, were supposed to rein in the CIA’s most egregious acts.

Nevertheless, we now know that a rejuvenated CIA has run a full-scale torture program, kidnapped terror suspects off global streets, and still oversees drone assassination campaigns in Pakistan and Yemen. In addition, it continues to resist Congressional oversight of its torture activities. As yet, the Agency, tasked with “vetting” a 6,000-page report on its “interrogation methods” prepared by the Senate Intelligence Committee, has refused to allow the release of any part of the account. Even Dianne Feinstein, the committee’s chair, often considered the “senator from national security,” was moved to offer an extraordinary denunciation on the floor of the Senate of the CIA’s interference with committee computers.

Recently, the Washington Post reported some leaked details from the report the committee has been struggling unsuccessfully to get released, including information on a previously undocumented form of CIA torture: shoving a prisoner’s head into a tub of ice water or pouring that water all over a person’s body. (Immersion in cold water is a torture method I first came across in 1984 when interviewing a Nicaraguan who had been kidnapped and tortured by U.S.-backed and -trained Contra guerrillas.)

We don’t have anything like the full story of the CIA’s involvement in torture, and the CIA is only one agency within a larger complex of agencies, military and civilian. We can’t dismantle what we can’t see.

None of the High Government Officials Responsible for Activities That Amount to War Crimes Has Been Held Accountable; Nor Have Any of the Actual CIA Torturers

When it comes to torture, President Obama has argued that “nothing will be gained by spending our time and energy laying blame for the past,” but this is simply not true. One thing that could be gained would be a public consensus that the United States should never again engage in torture. Another might be agreement that officials who are likely guilty of war crimes should not be allowed to act with impunity and then left free to spend their post-government years writing memoirs or painting themselves bathing.

Retired Major General Antonio Taguba, whose military career was cut short by his report on U.S. abuses at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq, wrote in the preface to a June 2008 report by Physicians for Human Rights, “After years of disclosures by government investigations, media accounts, and reports from human rights organizations, there is no longer any doubt as to whether the current administration has committed war crimes. The only question that remains to be answered is whether those who ordered the use of torture will be held to account.”

Years later, with a different administration in its second term, this question has been answered. They will not. Nor will the actual CIA torturers, since the Obama Justice Department has dismissed all cases involving their brutal interrogations, even two that resulted in the deaths of prisoners.

This is not to say that no one has been sent to prison because of the CIA’s torture programs. Former CIA analyst John Kiriakou is presently serving 30 months in federal prison for revealing the name of a covert CIA operative, while blowing the whistle on the Agency’s torture operations. From his prison cell, he has called for a special prosecutor to bring the architects of the torture program to justice.

Living in a Cowardly New World

The post-9/11 United States is no brave new world, but a terrified one. We are constantly reminded of the dangers we face and encouraged to believe that torture will keep us safe. Americans have evidently seen just enough -- between revelations of fact and fictional representations -- to become habituated to the idea that torture is a necessary cost of safety. Indeed, polls show that Americans are more supportive of using torture today than they were at the height of the “war on terror.”

In these years, “safety” and “security” have become primary national concerns. It’s almost as if we believe that if enough data is collected, enough “really bad guys” are tortured into giving up “actionable intelligence,” we ourselves will never die. There is a word for people whose first concern is always for their own safety and who will therefore permit anything to be done in their name as long as it keeps them secure. Such people are sometimes called cowards.

If this terrified new worldview holds, and if the structure for a torture system remains in place and unpunished, the next time fear rises, the torture will begin anew. your social media marketing partner


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+35 # John S. Browne 2014-07-12 20:54

Begin anew, my butt! It's NEVER stopped since it was "escalated anew" (in other words, newly expanded to previously unheard of proportions). "Obrona's" so-called "ending" of it, and his "Executive Orders" to allegedly bring that about, were nothing but false propaganda for public consumption; and, with a secret "wink and a nod", the program was clandestinely continued, perhaps not at the level that it was throughout 2001 to early 2009, but still at a much-expanded level to that of pre-9-11.

I'll bet there's, secretly, prisoners still being kidnapped and taken to Guantanamo that even the rest of the detainees there don't know about. Either that, or in addition, there are undoubtedly still many "black sites" abroad that, again secretly, were never truly shut down, where they are being sent for "interro(r)gati on" and torture. There are likely such secret facilities on U.S. soil as well, where Americans are already being "disappeared" and indefinitely detained, "interro(r)gate d" and tortur- ed. And it's probably going on, with impunity and immunity, in federal and local police facilities domestically, as well as in U.S. prisons with already-impriso ned people, as never before. This is what the "Jack Bauer mentality" opened up and made "acceptable".

As I've said before, most "Amerikans" willfully live in la-la-land and choose to believe the "Jack-Bauer-esq ue" lies that all this is for our "security", and "preserving 'liberty' and 'freedom'", etc.

Wake up, people!

-1 # Jim Young 2014-07-15 11:20
Quoting John S. Browne:
# ...I'll bet there's, secretly, prisoners still being kidnapped and taken to Guantanamo that even the rest of the detainees there don't know about...

Sorry to say the typical historical reaction, once the general population finds out about torture, has been to kill them, sometimes sooner, sometimes after torture. Sometimes they don't take prisoners to avoid the problem with a pretense of legality, during very lopsided engagements like the "Highway of Death." I hope we can, again, become better than that (though I don't blame those who couldn't definitively figure out when they sensed enough was enough). It is often hard to break the momentum. I still wonder how more effective it would have been to spare many on that highway, and convert as many as possible to our side in toppling Saddam from within (or at least using people probably glad to be free of his control). We had more than a hundred really effective "Kit Carson" scouts, recruited from former VC, that were free to reevaluate who the bad guys really were.
0 # ritawalpoleague 2014-07-16 10:51
Bingo. John S.. Pull up on Bing or Goggle: Rita Ague Voter's Lament. Looks like some more Voters' Laments are needed now with Oh Bomb Ah's 'wink and nod' m.o., and so many of us falling for 'yet more MSDing - manipulating, spinning, distracting, i.e. the inevitable nomination/elec tion of Hillary Clinton, or as I call her, the warmongering Hill the Shill.

Possible solution? Let's seriously consider forcing the Dem. nomination of Independent Sen. Bernie Sanders, a.k.a...

+35 # reiverpacific 2014-07-13 10:23
So if they're so keen on torture here's a suggestion from Jesse Ventura. "You give me a water board, Dick Cheney and one hour, and I'll have him confess to the Sharon Tate murders": he endured it himself during his SEAL training.
So, start with ol' Torquemada C', follow it with all the suited homeland neocons, cowards and chicken hawks like "Toney" Blair, Dimwits, Limpballs, Hannity, Will and all the pundits who beat the war-drums loudest, film each session and turn it into a "Reality" series, including them whining and shitting themselves.
The so called "War on Terror" is as big a failure as the "War on Drugs", now the main recruiting tool for extremists, serving to inflame the youth of the invaded and exploited countries 'du jour', driving them into the arms of the fanatics.
It used to be called "The White Man's Burden" in the days of the UK "Empah", invaded nations, especially India, Pakistan and the Caribbean nations, emigrating to the motherland for training and work (they were called "Wogs" when I was a kid) enduring the same resentments as Muslims and Latinos get here but now pretty much integrated, staffing a large part of the NHS and enhancing the national cuisine greatly.
The US has been training and planting Right-wing, death-squad Dictatorships all over the globe, usurping their own attempts at Democracy for so long including it's own native peoples, it's all come back home to roost driving the same resentful mentality -and we have to live with the results.
+25 # munza1 2014-07-13 10:30
Just to add a note on the Kiriakou case. He told the name of a CIA operative he thought was in the open to a journalist. The journalist never published or used the name. They were out to get him for blowing the whistle on water boarding. The judge wanted to give him ten years. Th perpetrators are celebrated on their book tours. Kiriakou has been refused early release to a half way house. Compare the Valerie Plame case.
+12 # kalpal 2014-07-13 11:14
The full accounting will appear sometimes after the year 2100. All involved will have died and could no longer be penalized for any felonious actions they committed. It will likely, but not by all means certainly, be considered a regrettable lapse among basically well intentioned Americans. It will be a whitewash of the sort used to excuse Europeans murderously dealing with and stealing from aboriginal American native tribes.
+13 # ericlipps 2014-07-13 12:17
And by the time it does appear, Americans will have grown so accustomed to torture ands perhaps worse that no one will care. After all, we're defending ourselves, so anything goes.
+4 # ericlipps 2014-07-13 12:18
And by the time it does appear, Americans will have grown so accustomed to torture and perhaps worse that no one will care. After all, we're defending ourselves, so anything goes.
+14 # Glen 2014-07-13 12:50
kalpal, disaster will befall the world way before 2100. WWIII is already beginning, but due to the new method of warfare it is going unrecognized by many. Countries re-aligning, destabilization , cyber warfare, drones, attacks on cities and countries and promotion of violence and killing, and human beings fleeing the violence is already the norm, not the exception.

No person who promoted any of this will ever be held accountable.
+4 # economagic 2014-07-13 18:29
Glen is barely scratching the surface. A group at Tufts University has co-sponsored the "Triple Crisis Blog" for a number of years, I think since before the Crash of 2008. I believe the three crises they are currently blogging about are global warming, global energy, and global finance.

I mentioned this to a Tea Party friend a couple of years ago with the claim that I could fill up the fingers of both hands with critical global systems that are currently stressed to the breaking point without stopping to think or take a breath. Then I stopped to see if I could actually do that. I quite when I got to about eighteen.

This is by no means cause for despair. With crisis comes danger but also opportunity, in this case great opportunity to build new human-scale systems to replace those that are even now being swept away. I say start local, with food (, including finance for local food systems and local business ( , then look around and see where we are. The Transition Towns movement (transitionus.o rg, although it began in Totnes in SW England in 2006) has a lot of practical experience, as do other groups all over the world. Google "New Economy" (I recommend, which rents time on the Yahoo search engine and donates a penny a search to your favorite non-profit).

A hundred years from now the current oligarchs will be seen for what they are by even more people than see that today.
+20 # medusa 2014-07-13 11:45
I had the opportunity to hear Prof. Jeremy Waldron (University Professor, NYU) lecture on the use of torture after 911. Bush's Attorney General Gonzales had said that the Geneva conventions were "quaint" because of the horrors of 911. But Waldron pointed out that Geneva was adopted in response to the horrors or World War II. He made many other points as well that were unknown to me, despite being trained in theology.
+24 # politicfix 2014-07-13 12:13
Dick Cheney proves that when George W. Bush pointed his finger at us indicating there was an "axis of evil" he also had three fingers pointing back at himself. From the time the Bush administration took office the country was devastated on every level. It will take decades to bring the country back from the devastation inflicted on this country from the Bush "axis of evil". Cheney is a reminder of how bad they really were.
+14 # Saberoff 2014-07-13 12:28
I did not vote for Obama, but after his primary victory I supported and spoke well of him for awhile based solely on his promise to hold those lying, evil bastards in the extended Bush family accountable.

This country is owned entirely, and operated, by evil, lying bastards interested only in world domination.

Happy Independence Day.
+12 # fredboy 2014-07-13 12:51
Torture is the dark side, amazingly attractive to most. Check out history--humans love sadism.
-13 # cherylpetro 2014-07-13 13:03
I think these authors are taking a lot of liberties with conjecture, and speculation.
+22 # janie1893 2014-07-13 13:04
Most Americans have never missed a meal or broken a bone, so how do we know what torture is? We don't!

Torture does not elicit true information!

Torture is used to give satisfaction to the torturer!
+12 # anarchteacher 2014-07-13 14:20

War Crimes, the Holocaust, and Today’s National Security State

The American government has become what our fathers, grandfathers, or great-grandfath ers fought against in the Second World War, with the same criminal rationale as the Nazi regime of sadists and sociopaths.

Its criminal justice system is "justice" of, by, and for, "criminals" who make up the apparatus.

This totalitarian mindset has filtered down to the lowest local levels, as dramatically portrayed in the Academy Award-winning film, Judgment at Nuremberg.
+6 # Archie1954 2014-07-13 15:22
That is just one of the many egregious activities that the US has been involved in for more than a decade now. It is though also one of the worst! The rule of law has been cast aside and war criminals allowed to walk free. Cheney, Bush and the rest of the degenerates who ran the US government and the nation into the ground are deserving of long sentences in one of their own gulags, but it won't happen as long as the current gang of thugs in Congress and the WhiteHouse are in power. Someday a true patriot will arise, not the phoney ones who think, my country wrong or right! But the true ones who will put America back into Congress and the WhiteHouse, who will demand that justice be done, who will see that judicial corruption is stopped in its tracks, who will recreate the America that has been lost now for decades. No more decaying and degenerate empire!
-4 # bingers 2014-07-14 06:00
If you quote Lew Rockwell, kindly move to Somalia where that moron's wishes are in full bloom.
+1 # Jim Young 2014-07-14 08:08
See for critical background for what I have to say.

My earliest mentor (military) was captured at Corregidor and spent 3-1/2 years in Japanese prison/work camps. He would be appalled at our use of torture and how it worsens future relations. Our study of North Korean torture and mind control seems to have become our manual with a new cover on it, though I'd ask how we could ever expect such crap to work any better for us than it did for them (in the long run). One of the early failures was the Harvard experiments that produced (most notably) Ted Kaczinski a.k.a. the Unabomber.

I used to think there was justification for some "response in kind," but it soon far exceeds any value it might have had if applied as judiciously as I dreamed it could be. Now I'm convinced it is not worth what it does to our own guys who have to witness or participate in it, no matter how much greater ordinary blow-back it produces in danger to our troops (and citizens). I don't want to help prosecute even one of our guys if we can put a stop to anymore atrocities. I reported what little I knew about one very troubled participant in what I later found out was My Lai, and have since run into more who are seriously troubled by what they witnessed or were led to participate in. Some did so willingly, at the time, but are now very troubled by it. I like Sheriff Liberty's approach to reduce this.
+1 # John S. Browne 2014-07-14 22:25

Jim, that's "judiciously", not "judicially".

+3 # Jim Young 2014-07-15 11:06
Thanks, I corrected the typo.

I understand many don't appreciate my view on this, but I just recently saw one Vet I thought we had lost a couple years ago. He now seems one of those who has been helped, hopefully, by those who went through similar situations. I don't need, or want, to know the details, as long as we get them back into our society better rooted in our greatest strengths and reducing future problems.

There may be some value in making examples of some of the leaders (much more so than the lower tier fodder) that took us down this path, but I'd want only the most effective, and least hypocritical version of what we did to other leaders around the world.

My suggestion would be a triple life size bronze of Cheney being water boarded (something I'd never do to another human, even him), surrounded by plaques listing the more direct victims of his fantasies, and others of our people needlessly lost in blow-back from his steps into the gutter of the dark side.
0 # RobertMStahl 2014-07-17 07:16
Nice work. How come Cheney, obviously Charlie Manson's protege in some sense, maintains himself as a theatrical presence? Is this satire? Ow! (Ow, ow, ow!) I wish there was real satire instead of this joke.

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